Black out coverage of terrorists, NA body tells media

Pakistan Press Foundation

ISLAMABAD: “Just as the story of a banned group claiming a bomb blast was aired, I was approached by security personnel and scrutinised thoroughly,” Jehangir Baloch, a correspondent working in Turbat, Balochistan, recounts.

“After examining my phone records, family history and other details, I was able to assure security personnel that I would not be filing any story regarding the terrorists or their claims,” he says, with a wry smile. “But the very next day, the other party who we call ‘terrorists’, called me and simply said that if I did not report their claims, there would be no need for an inquiry the next time.”

Unable to speak out at the time, Mr Baloch is now confident enough to discuss the matter, having moved to Islamabad out of fear for his safety.

His case is not new or unusual in the country, especially for electronic media professionals living in Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Standing committee issues recommendations, psycho-social guidelines for media
Similarly, a low-intensity bomb was exploded outside the head office of a major news channel after they refused to run the claims of a banned organisation. A spokesperson for the proscribed group called the channel’s bureau office to confirm that they had filed the story and the attack was carried out moments after they confirmed that the head office was delaying broadcast, which demonstrated a scary level of coordination and understanding of the media infrastructure on the part of the terrorists.

However, despite these facts, the Standing Committee on Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage on Wednesday ordained unilaterally that the media would not cover statements issued by those classified as `terrorists’.

The committee also stated that the government would define who are to be considered terrorists and the two categories in this regard are Banned organisations and potential terrorists.

Incidentally, the participants of the meeting stressed that providing security was the responsibility of the state, and both the government and media houses would share the responsibility of ensuring security to the media personnel.

However, the committee recommended that the government clearly define which groups were or were not classified as terrorists.

An official statement released after the meeting said that the body had endorsed and approved 46 recommendations for the media to counter terrorism in the prevailing wartime situation.

The recommendations highlighted that laws already existed in the country and open with the words: “The press shall not lend itself to the projection of crime [or] terrorism as heroic and criminals, terrorists, as heroes.”

“We are not suggesting anything new, simply that existing laws should be implemented,” said ruling party lawmaker Talal Chaudhry.

However, when asked who will be responsible for addressing security threats to mediapersons, he said, “The government is preparing a strategy for this, which will be announced by the prime minister himself, and media owners and the government will work together to ensure the protection of journalists and media workers.”

The committee also suggested psycho-social guidelines, including recommendations that say that visuals which are unsuitable for children, of a sensitive nature or are and disturbing should not be shown before 10pm and repetition of footage should be restricted to just two loops.

Reiterating existing guidelines that call on media houses not to name terrorists or run images of their faces, the recommendations include stipulations such as, “Don’t show anti- state elements, [or] take sides in sectarian issues.” But one of the most amusing and vague recommendations reads: “Always show good news first and if possible at bedtime also. (sic)”

The recommendations also stress that media channels, “[Shouldn’t] repeat bad news too often”,

The committee has also suggested to the government that, “Telecom and electronic media [should] have special broadcast tribunals,” but details of what powers these tribunals would have were not discussed in the meeting.

The recommendations spell out penalties for violations, which will be imposed on both individual journalists as well as media houses, both for print and electronic media.

“In case of an editorial lapse, the media should be compelled to take punitive action against professional and journalistic negligence,” the committee recommended, noting that ‘[A] Mindset change and capacity-building [is] required at media houses”.

The committee also recommended that live coverage of terrorist attacks be highly restricted and media houses restrict discussion of plans and the movement of law enforcement agencies.

The recommendations also include positive steps, such as the prohibition of the identification of victims of terrorism and kidnapping for ransom or their families. Footage of bereaved families and people mourning the death of their loved ones should also be restricted, the committee suggested.

Meanwhile, Mujeeb-ur-Rehman Shami, president of the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE), opposed the idea of blacking out terror groups from media coverage. He said that the legal position might be one way, but practically, things were different and difficult.

“How can anybody protect media persons or media offices from terrorist attacks,” he asked the committee. “One thing needs to be understood; without media coverage, nobody would have known what is happening in the rest of the country,” he said.

Dawn News